Day 02 - Templeland - The best one
There was one more temple we wanted to visit: Ta Promh. This isn't the biggest. It isn't the most famous. In fact, the only thing it's got going for it is the undergrowth. No joke. Let's introduce it with a photo which some who've seen a few recent Hollywood flicks might recognise:
Suryavarman II and his royal ilk had realised that kings with spectacularly long names were never going to be remembered simply for having them they had died out, the Khmer kingdom, like all kingdoms, fell to the dust of time. The jungle crept back into the sanctuaries it had been banished from and started to let those who remained know who was boss.
All of the temples in Cambodia were found in various stages of disrepair. While many were cleared of vegetation (and the obligatory Cambodian mines) and reconstructed to
bring in the tourists (sorry) preserve the heritage of the world, Ta Promh wasn't.
Now, while many in the archaeological community may lose sleep over this, the tourists actually love it. Ta Promh is one of the most popular temples because it hasn't been reconstructed and because it's overgrown. Well, it has been cleared up a bit but just to help with walking about the place and other little things like not getting crushed by falling masonry.
We loved it. The trees are stupendous. What a root can do to a stone is beyond our understanding. If I was a rock I'd be weeping right now in fact (eat your heart out Paul Simon). But as I was a human and a great lover of trees to boot, I laughed with glee at the way the rock moved aside to let the life through. Kind of reminded me of another story I love...
Well, we were pretty much templed out by now. As we left, we were entertained by a band of musicians all of whom had been injured by landmines and had abandoned begging in favour of playing music. We bought one of their CDs as a souvenir. It was quite a reality check to see a man playing a fiddle with a stump instead of an arm.
By now we were very aware of the fact that we had less than 24 hours left in this country. We wanted to see something a bit more real. We asked Vannak and Chuot if they could show us a little of real life. They took us for a walk through some villages.
This was one of the things we'll remember most about our trip here. The villages were really clean. Bare swept earth sprinkled with fruit trees and palms surrounded houses on stilts and through all this ran dogs, puppies, chickens galore and everywhere welcoming people with smiling faces and mutual curiosity.
Typical house in the villages around the town of Siem Reap, west Cambodia. The lower room is solid and secure and used for storing a motorbike or other valuable equipment. The upper room is for the family. There's usually a shared toilet somewhere in the village which is basically a cement platform over a cesspit surrounded by a wall or screen.
John makes three fruits; these are breadfruit, sometimes known as jackfruit.At one point, we came across a family group around a well. The grandmother who I'd say was somewhere between 60 and 412 years of age was washing herself. As we stood there using Vannak as a translator asking them questions about their lives, she suddenly gave a shout and had us all in fits of laughter. She'd soaped and lathered her head and wanted to pose for the camera!
We found it very endearing that someone of her age (and goodness knows what horrors she's seen in her long Cambodian life) should bridge the cultural gap with some humour. We left these people with a really strong desire to get to know something more about them, determined to hire some bikes from our hotel and go exploring the next day.
Meanwhile, our guides were done for the day and they dropped us off at our hotel. At the last minute, we remembered that our long lost bags were in the back of Chuot's car! Almost lost them again.
We decided to go up the tower again and take in the sunset with a fruit shake to help us get through it, and then we had a dip in the pool.
We decided to head into town for a meal and so called a tuk-tuk from reception. These are contraptions with a motorbike on the front and a little carriage behind. Very comfy and a great way to see the streets without being in an air-conditioned sanctuary.
We went to La Noria and had a fabulous meal of Cambodian food in luxurious surroundings for all of about $4.
And when we finally made it back to our hotel, we had a visitor...